Trials measure chickpea/wheat rotation profit

Chickpeas grown in rotation with wheat have become a valuable part of the Swaffer family's cropping program in Central Queensland

Photo of man kneeling in field

Trials on Brendon Swaffer's property in Central Queensland have confirmed the value of chickpeas as a break crop. The trial results have encouraged Brendon to increase phosphorus rates to boost yield potential.

PHOTO: Nicole Baxter


Owners: Brendon and Jody Swaffer

Location: Clermont, Queensland

Farm size: 3200 hectares

Rainfall: 600 millimetres (mean annual)

Soil types: black-cracking clay (flooded coolabah)

Soil pH CaCl: 8

Enterprise: 100 per cent cropping (chickpea, wheat, sorghum and cotton)
Crops grown 2013: Sorghum (1160ha), KyabramPBR logo chickpeas (1040ha) and StrzeleckiPBR logo wheat (960ha)

The lift in profitability by planting wheat after chickpeas – compared with wheat after wheat – has been demonstrated in trials by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) on Brendon and Jody Swaffer’s grain and cotton farm in Central Queensland.

The trials on the Swaffer’s 3200-hectare property north of Clermont showed a chickpea/wheat sequence generated an additional $947/ha gross income over two years compared with two successive wheat crops (Table 1).

Two-year trials

Graph of a grain protein comparison for 2012

Figure 1: Grain protein comparison 2012

To test the effects of chickpeas on soil nitrogen levels, subsequent wheat yields and overall income, the Swaffers have hosted a three-year GRDC-funded trial since 2011.  

Research technician Maurie Conway and extension officer Max Quinlivan, both from Queensland DAFF, ran the trials.

Mr Conway planted wheat and chickpeas side-by-side in 2011, followed by wheat across the whole trial in 2012.

Urea was applied at four different rates (nil, 20 kilograms/ha, 40kg/ha and 60kg/ha of nitrogen) to investigate the impact on yield and protein.

Also applied were high rates of phosphorus (21.8kg/ha), potassium (37.5kg/ha) and sulfur (17.5kg/ha) to ensure nutrient deficiencies did not limit production.

After two years, the trials showed:

  • wheat after chickpeas yielded more than wheat after wheat;
  • the additional yield averaged 380kg/ha
  • (Table 2) across the four nitrogen rates tested (nil, 20kg/ha, 40kg/ha, and 60kg/ha of nitrogen as granular urea);
  • taking into consideration the grain prices, and differences in yield and protein (Figure 1), the additional wheat grown on the chickpea/wheat plots was worth an extra $98/ha;
  • the combined gross income from the chickpea/wheat sequence (over two years) was $947/ha more than the wheat/wheat sequence;
  • the rotational benefit of the chickpea/wheat sequence is due to enhanced nutrient availability after a chickpea crop, suppression of diseases, changes in weed populations and changes in soil structure, among other factors; and
  • the yield benefit in wheat from the rotation was equivalent to applying 20kg/ha to 40kg/ha of nitrogen fertiliser.

In 2012, an area adjacent to the trial site was again planted to wheat and chickpeas to provide more confidence in the data and better understand the long-term impact of chickpeas on wheat yields under different growing conditions.

Table 1: Chickpea benefits to the rotation over two years.
 Site  Gross income ($/ha)
 Chickpea/wheat  Wheat/what Difference
 Bungarra  $1945 $998 $947

Notes: based on 2012-13 delivery prices at Emerald, Queensland

SOURCE: Max Quinlivan, Queensland DAFF

 Nutrients Chickpea/wheat (kg/ha)
Wheat/wheat (kg/ha)
Difference (kg/ha)
Table 2: Grain yield comparison 2012.
 Nil  2810 2518
 Phosphorus (21.8kh/ha), potassium (37.5kg/ha) and sulfur (17.5kg/ha)
 2754  2374  380
Urea (20kg/ha of nitrogen)
 3176  2763  415
Urea (40kg/ha of nitrogen)
 3237  3034  203
 Urea (60kg/ha of nitrogen)
 3482  3007 475

Notes: from the Bungarra trial site

SOURCE: Max Quinlivan, Queensland DAFF

Ascochyta management

With a recent spike in the number of grain growers planting chickpeas in Central Queensland, Brendon only grows chickpeas on the same paddocks once every three or four years to help guard against the increased risk of ascochyta blight.

Although no spores were detected in the Swaffers’ 2013 crops, Mr Quinlivan found the disease in some of the chickpea crops he has scouted in Central Queensland this season.

“Ideally, growers in Central Queensland should only plant chickpeas in the same paddock once every three years and two preventive fungicide sprays must be applied at three and six weeks after sowing or before a major rain event, regardless of the presence of symptoms,” Mr Quinlivan says.

He also encourages those saving chickpea seed for sowing in 2014 to treat it with a registered fungicide containing Thiram prior to planting.

Kyabra ahead in the cold

Brendon Swaffer prefers to grow KyabraPBR logo chickpeas after testing PBA PistolPBR logo and KyabraPBR logo in a side-by-side comparison in 2012. The PBA PistolPBR logo chickpeas did not yield as well as the KyabraPBR logo chickpeas in favourable seasonal conditions. “KyabraPBR logo is the pick because I get a lot of frost,” he says. “Last year was the coldest winter we can remember, with successive frosts. The PBA PistolPBR logochickpeas couldn’t handle the prolonged cold weather.” As a consequence, the PBA PistolPBR logo chickpeas yielded 1.6 tonnes per hectare on average, whereas the KyabraPBR logo chickpeas yielded 2.2t/ha, he says. 

Soil testing

To help avoid deficiencies in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur or zinc that could limit productivity, Brendon collects soil samples for testing every year to determine the optimum mix of nutrients needed. Since nitrogen is not applied to the chickpeas, funds are available for investment in other nutrients.

Recent research by Dr Mike Bell, principal research fellow at the University of Queensland’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), shows many farms in Central Queensland have phosphorus and potassium concentrated in the topsoil and critically low levels in the subsoil. However, plants cannot access these immobile nutrients when the topsoil is dry, which reduces productivity.

To address this, Brendon uses a chisel plough to plant the chickpeas. The rig is ideal for use in dry conditions because it allows chickpeas, with their long coleoptiles, to be seeded into moist soil at depths of 150 to 200 millimetres when the surface soil is dry.

Mr Quinlivan says deep placement of phosphorus and potassium in the soil has potential residual benefits for three to four years, but he suggests more research is needed to develop recommendations for fertiliser rates, application methods and the potential longevity of residual benefits for growers.

Chickpeas need phosphorus

Brendon says the biggest lesson learnt from the trial was that his chickpea crops need more phosphorus to thrive. In the past, he routinely applied 5kg/ha of phosphorus at planting, but the research findings have prompted him to apply 7 to 8kg/ha of phosphorus (equivalent to 35 to 40kg/ha of SuPreme Z®).

“It was obvious from the trials that if we weren’t using higher phosphorus rates when sowing our chickpeas we were missing out big time,” he says.


More information:

Brendon Swaffer,
07 4985 6110,;

Max Quinlivan,
07 4983 7424,
0418 708 252,


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